Creating Value from Data? Three Ways APIs Are Key

For the last half-decade, ever since terms like “big data” hit the mainstream, CIOs have been under increasing pressure to derive value from the vast amounts of data their organizations collect and generate.

The process was slow-going for several years as many organizations grappled with the reality that even an astronomically large amount of data isn’t useful if it’s not combined with the right technologies and assessed with the right use cases in mind. Some of these struggles persist, but after a few years of starts and stops, many enterprises have begun to embrace best practices for turning data into higher revenues, expanded brand reach, improved efficiency, smarter strategies — or in the case of particularly sophisticated organizations, all of the above.

One recent study, for example, predicts 40 percent of IT projects will create new digital services and revenue streams that monetize data. This particular approach to monetizing data isn’t the only way to generate value from data, of course. Companies can leverage data for better internal operations, for example, or to generate actionable intelligence to inform smarter strategic decisions. But the stat demonstrates the momentum building around specific approaches.

Though the uses cases are growing in number, one thing unites many of the common tactics: they’re all enhanced by, if not reliant on, robust API capabilities. Indeed, in many ways, if a company wants to build up its data capabilities, it needs to start by looking at its API capabilities.

How APIs Turn Data into Value: Three Use Cases

1. Turn your data into a service

Most companies possess proprietary data that could be useful to other businesses. The trick is offering that data in a scalable package that makes it easy for the customer to do something useful. As the de facto standard for building modern applications, APIs are a natural solution to this need. They replace the cumbersome integration processes and business silos that typified legacy IT with a predictable interface that lets developers work with the resources they need, when they need them.

AccuWeather, an Apigee customer, is an excellent example. It uses APIs to share its weather data with a range of global partners across a variety of use cases, including connected cars, smart homes, wearable devices, smart TVs, smartphone apps, and more.

Expanding on the API ecosystem it built with traditional enterprise partners, AccuWeather recently began focusing on individual developers. While devising its plan, company leaders recognized that not all developers would use the data in the same ways. Some might want to build apps that need up-to-the-minute weather information, generating billions of API calls. Others might be interested in daily forecasts, which don’t require updating as regularly and can impose lighter traffic overhead. AccuWeather’s customized approach was to create a system that let developers purchase according to their needs, with different types of weather data offered as distinct APIs with flexible, usage-based billing.

To promote its APIs, AccuWeather launched an online portal for developers to learn about, discuss, and purchase access to its APIs. Within two months of debuting, and with relatively little marketing, the portal attracted over 6,500 users, generated nearly 2,500 API keys, and resulted in almost 60 purchases of AccuWeather’s paid API packages.

2. Use data to improve internal processes and employee productivity

External use cases are a great way to turn data into value — but internal use cases can be equally valuable. Because well-managed APIs can connect systems, data, and applications across multiple clouds, a business can leverage APIs to accelerate application development, mixing and matching APIs to create new offerings and to help ensure that the business’s data is available where it will be most valuable.

Apigee customer Magazine Luiza — one of Brazil’s largest retailers— used APIs to build an app that helps in-store employees better serve customers, for example. The app gives employees quick access to not only inventory counts and other logistics details but also information to help answer customers’ frequent questions, such as how a product is used or which product is best for certain use cases. One of numerous ways Magazine Luiza uses its API platform to drive business, the app has helped the brand improve same-store sales.

3. Analyze your data for more actionable insights and smarter decisions

As the last two use cases demonstrate, many approaches to making data more useful and profitable involve sharing that data or making that data available to the right people in the right context. Applying intelligence to that data pushes the value proposition further, ensuring data is not only connected as desired but delivered with the right analysis to trigger the right actions.

APIs play a foundational role in this process in several ways. The API layer itself, for example, provides a common plane on which to run analytics across a company’s apps and services, and to apply proactive defense mechanisms that use the business’s API consumption data to detect and take action against bots and malicious actors.

Equally tantalizing, APIs can help companies extract actionable insights from their data. Businesses have long struggled with unstructured data that doesn’t fit easily into spreadsheet rows and columns — but emerging machine learning technologies allow companies to find meaningful patterns across noisy datasets such as consumer support transcripts, sales information, social media data, and even images. Developing the infrastructure and algorithms to support this kind of analysis is time-consuming, difficult, and expensive, but increasingly, companies such as Google, Microsoft, and IBM are making machine learning capabilities accessible to others via APIs. These relatively emergent approaches are already showing great promise in sectors such as marketing and healthcare and are likely to exponentially expand their influence as the technologies mature.

Need to Monetize Data? Get an API platform.

From mobile apps to the Internet of Things, companies will only continue to collect and generate more data. Being able to move that data, connect it to different systems and apps, and package it for different users and purposes will remains central to future use cases and techniques.

This means that though those use cases and techniques are difficult to fully predict, APIs are in many ways the prerequisite to enabling them, whatever they happen to be. When data is encased in legacy systems and processes, developers can’t work with it quickly and easily enough to generate value — not in today’s market, whose shorter but more frequent windows of opportunity require companies to be nimble and responsive. As the preceding examples attest, an API platform helps facilitate this kind of proactive agility, helping companies to continually leverage and re-leverage their core assets to improve products, services, and operations, and to unlock new revenue streams.